KPC Health employees and management have reached a tentative agreement that will increase wages at six KPC facilities in Orange County and the Inland Empire, while also alleviating concerns about staff shortages and high staff turnover.
The move came late on Thursday, narrowly averting a five-day strike scheduled for Monday, September 26.
The more than 1,400 KPC employees — including respiratory therapists, licensed occupational nurses, radiology technologists, food service workers, operating room and emergency room technicians, and others — are represented by SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West. Their contract expired on July 13.
They work at Victor Valley Global Medical Center in Victorville, Anaheim Global Medical Center, Chapman Global Medical Center in Orange, South Coast Global Medical Center in Santa Ana, Hemet Global Medical Center, and Menifee Valley Medical Center.
Workers say the preliminary agreement should make a difference.
“We’ve had such a hard time keeping good health professionals in our hospital,” said Mychelle Ramey, a respiratory therapist at South Coast Global Medical Center. “New workers are joining, but between the heavy, risky workload and low pay, they quickly move on to better-paying jobs, sometimes in a matter of weeks.”
Once the agreement is finalized, KPC will have a better chance of attracting and retaining good health care providers, Ramey said, meaning safer care for patients and the community.
Representatives of KPC, a national for-profit healthcare chain, could not be reached for comment Friday.
Some KPC workers are earning a starting wage of $15 an hour and the new contract that would increase that to $18, union officials said.
“This also includes pay increases of 3% to 7% in the first year of the three-year contract and increases of 3% to 5% in the second year,” said SEIU spokesman Tom Parker.
Additional pay increases would be considered in the third year, he said, although they have yet to be enacted.
“Most importantly, they’ve never had a unified pay scale before,” Parker said. “So someone who has worked at a KPC facility for 10 or even 20 years may end up earning less than a new hire. This will fix that.”
Jessica Meinert, an emergency room at Hemet Global Medical Center, said she makes $15.50 an hour with no medical benefits, though she gets time off for vacations and holidays.
“This new contract would be a big jump, not just for me, but for others at the lower end of the pay scale,” said the 33-year-old Hemet resident.
Meinert said KPC employees have faced staff shortages across the board.
“We are not competitive enough,” she said. “Wages are low and we don’t have enough benefits for people to stay. We have people who get hired right out of school here. They come to work here and leave after six months.”